A German archdiocese has censored a Catholic student group after the young people issued a document critical of church teachings about sexual morality, among other church reform-related items.
In mid-November, the Archdiocese of Cologne blocked the Catholic University Community’s (KHG) website and warned the Community’s pastoral staff they could face consequences for the content posted. Kirche und Leben explained (via Google Translate):
“The reason for the dispute is a position paper published last year in which the KHG criticized, among other things, the appearance of church officials as ‘unbearable; and called for radical reforms in 15 points. . .
“The position paper states, among other things, that Catholic officials such as Popes Francis and Benedict XVI, representatives of the Bishops’ Conference and the Archdiocese were ‘backward and avoidant’ in expressing themselves and thereby repeatedly hurt people. Many Catholics did not share the Church’s teaching on celibacy, the ‘structural disadvantage of women’ and the attitude towards homosexuality. A renewal of power relations, sexual morals and structures of the official church is therefore necessary.”
The Archdiocese, headed by Cardinal Rainer Woelki, therefore temporarily took down KHG’s website on November 12 and removed the offending paper, which had been published in May 2019, from it. The Archdiocese also barred publication of the group’s semester newsletter unless references to the position paper and a note of protest about church officials’ intervention were removed. A further timeline (in German) of the events is available here.
The staff behind the position paper, entitled “We want to remain credible” (available here), explain that many of the students with whom they minister have questions, indeed “inner conflicts,” about church teachings and practices. Among their proposals, they write “against a narrowing of church sexual morality,” “for the recognition of sexuality as an important factor of identity (also for the priest),” and “for an appreciative attitude and appreciation towards relationships by homosexual and heterosexual couples.”
Discussions are now ongoing between archdiocesan officials and KHG pastoral staff because the Archdiocese claims there is a breach of trust. According to Kirche und Leben, one major staff change has already occurred:
“The document published on the KHG Facebook page in May 2019 was signed by university pastor Klaus Thranberend, among others. His signature can no longer be found in the current version. According to the archbishopric, Thranberend continues to work as a university pastor. However, Peter Krawczack took over the provisional management of the KHG team ‘due to the current stressful work situation’.”
While the position paper is absent from KHG’s website, it is now available elsewhere. A Protestant student group posted the paper along with a statement of solidarity on its website, along with the Catholic group’s newsletter. The Protestant students reported that other German Catholic Groups “such as the KJG, the BDKJ, the Diocesan Guide of the Scouts, the Women’s Community Germany, the Catholic Committee and Maria 2.0,” along with other higher education groups, have also hosted the position paper in dispute.
By all appearances, the institutional church is indeed censoring Catholics for criticizing aspects of the church, including church teachings on sexuality, that they view as flawed.
What is particularly interesting is that Colgone’s Cardinal Woelki has himself been more open in the past to thinking critically about homosexuality. In 2012, even before Pope Francis became pontiff, the cardinal suggested that same-gender couples in committed relationships should be viewed similarly to their heterosexual counterparts. He reaffirmed this position later that year. And Woelki was a vocal supporter of the German bishops’ 2015 church employment policy that sought to limit disputes with LGBTQ church workers, including those in same-gender marriages.
But, this overreach regarding KHG and its reform-minded position paper is consistent with Woelki’s more reactionary turn of late. In the past few years as Germany’s Catholics have undertaken the groundbreaking Synodal Way, a series of meetings of clerics and laity, and which includes a working group on sexual morality, Woelki has been vocally opposed to the process. He is also under heavy criticism for twice delaying a report on the Archdiocese of Cologne’s handling of sexual abuse.
Whatever the reasons behind the initial KHG intervention, the cardinal should return to his more open position and acknowledge that such censorship has no place in modern church discourse. In fact, it never did.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 10, 2020